Jamaican Swag: Usain Bolt, Arthur Wint and the #Beijing2015 World Championships

commentary on Jamaica’s stellar performance at the world championships in Beijing 2015 with must-see video footage.

The video above is from Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce’s Facebook feed. It shows the 200m final in Beijing up close and personal and in slow mo too–

“Bolt not only reached for the moon in Beijing, but also has shown that he wasn’t a flash in the pan or an outlier. Four years later he has picked the moon out of the sky again and has done it with ease and bravado, again something Jamaicans dearly love. You must not only win, you must do it with effortless style—something Bolt has displayed over and over again. His derring-do and bravura performances are symbolic of the Jamaican ambition to appear cool and deadly at all times.”

Three years after I wrote that paragraph for Newsweek Bolt has pulled it off yet again. A thrilling double gold in the 100 and 200 metres at the Beijing 2015 World Championships (see video above for footage of the 200m). As he matures Bolt has grown into a thoroughly engaging, all conquering hero, the legendary status he once coveted now his permanently. He is the athlete of the century, this one and the last.

At Bolt’s side is the equally swift and admirable Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce now the most decorated female runner on the planet with three 100m gold medals in the World Championships alone. And in their wake are the myriad of other Jamaican athletes plucking medals from the rest of the world, with ease and grace; young Danielle Williams winning the gold in the 100m hurdles and Hansle Parchment silver in the 110m hurdles. The women’s 200m gold went to the flying Dutchwoman, Dafne Schippers, a talent to watch, but Jamaica’s elegant, gazelle-like Elaine Thompson was hot on her heels and the much beloved Veronica Campbell-Brown hot on hers. They took the silver and bronze respectively.

Not many people realize that Jamaica has a proud tradition of sprinting going back more than half a century—to 1948 when 6 foot 4 inches tall Arthur Wint sped past Herb McKenley to win gold in the 400m. Jamaica took gold and silver in that race which can be viewed in the video immediately above. In the 1952 Olympics Jamaican runners swept the 4×400 relays from under the feet of the Americans. The video embedded below has incredible footage of Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley mining some of Jamaica’s earliest Olympic gold.


Finally here is the full text of the essay I wrote for Newsweek during the 2012 London Olympics. It captures I think some of the indomitable spirit of Jamaica and Jamaicans.

Jamaica gained independence from Britain in August 1962. As the nascent nation replaced the Union Jack with the Jamaican flag, its people imagined a future full of glory, honor, and world-thrilling exploits. With the colonizers gone and the days of slavery far behind, what could stop them from conquering the world?

As the decades rolled on, a deep and abiding disappointment began to set in as successive governments fluffed opportunities to create a workable, new framework for the aspirations and ambitions of ordinary Jamaicans. For many, things seemed to be worse than when the British were in charge; you only had to look over at the Cayman Islands for confirmation. Once part of Jamaica, the Caymanians had remained with Britain in 1962 and now seemed to be flourishing while Jamaica languished, violence and corruption paralyzing its body politic.

Most postcolonial countries have found it hard to overcome the handicaps they inherited at independence, and Jamaicans are rightly proud of their superb tradition in athletics and the country’s incomparable music, both of which have catapulted them onto the world stage on more than one occasion. For a nation this tiny, Jamaica has an ego and cultural wallop grander than most superpowers, punching way above its weight, as some here like to say.

It’s a matter of some chagrin to middle-class Jamaica that those who have put this little country on the map have been, almost without exception, members of its underclass. While formal, official Jamaica lumbers along tangled in red tape, bureaucratese, and “proper” English, the people at the bottom have sprinted and sung their way to international attention.

The exploits of Usain Bolt and his fellow Jamaican athletes have to be seen against this background. They all come from deprived communities, and each is a story of personal triumph and determination in the face of incredible odds. Usain Bolt is the personification of what Jamaicans would have liked their country to be: swift, insouciant, and unbeatable at what he does best—run. When he powered to the finish line in record time during the 100-meter, with Yohan Blake in close pursuit, they were elated. But nothing can describe the mood of brimming joy that has pervaded the nation since Bolt repeated his triumph in the 200m, once again with Blake hot on his heels. And then, as an example of what Jamaicans call “brawta”—a little extra thrown in to perfect the whole thing—Warren Weir in bronze position, completing the Jamaican trifecta.

Nothing warms the heart of Jamaicans more than to hear a story about someone triumphing against all odds, through sheer perseverance, guts, and hard work to prove his or her talent and ability. “Never say die” should have been the national motto, for as long as you try your best, even if you lose, Jamaicans will love you. But you’ll have to die trying.

Bolt not only reached for the moon in Beijing, but also has shown that he wasn’t a flash in the pan or an outlier. Four years later he has picked the moon out of the sky again and has done it with ease and bravado, again something Jamaicans dearly love. You must not only win, you must do it with effortless style—something Bolt has displayed over and over again. His derring-do and bravura performances are symbolic of the Jamaican ambition to appear cool and deadly at all times.

Jamaica is a contradictory mix of individualism and community spirit. Bolt was raised by a village, Sherwood Content, in rural Jamaica. What Jamaicans love is the fact that although you could take the boy out of the village, you couldn’t take the village out of Bolt. At heart he remains the healthy-spirited, simple-hearted boy who grew up there, though he now knows how to negotiate the deadly streets of Kingston and the world.

As video footage of Bolt and his teammates in Birmingham and at the Olympic Village shows, the Jamaican men’s team thrives on camaraderie, good will, and fun and games. Do it well and enjoy what you’re doing is another Jamaican homily, illustrated by the young men and women of this extraordinary little country. On the Olympic stage it’s been a winning strategy.

To be the best in the world is what every Jamaican would like, though circumstances often come between them and this simple ambition. Bolt is beloved because he has honed his natural gifts to perfection with enough gas left in the tank to reach higher and farther.

“We need to lock her up for treason!”: Anne Shirley, JADCO and Sports Illustrated

A closer look at the controversy surrounding Anne Shirley’s Sports Illustrated article on Drug Testing in Jamaica

In mid-July news broke that Tyson Gay had failed a routine drugs test; hot on its heels we heard from local media that Asafa Powell, Sherone Simpson and two other Jamaican athletes had also tested positive for banned substances. In Jamaica the bombshell had fallen a month earlier with local media reporting news of Veronica Campbell-Brown’s failure to pass her drug tests. Newspapers, TV and radio all headlined her story, sensationally portraying her as a cheat, well in advance of the IAAF’s own verdict on the matter.

The VCB story had been leaked to the Jamaican press and the media here ran with it with almost reckless alacrity considering their usual reticence in providing information on matters of public interest. Less than a week later, June 19 to be precise, Sports Illustrated carried an AP story pointing out that according to the IAAF Campbell-Brown’s positive test for a diuretic appeared to be a ‘lesser’ offense attracting a lesser sanction or “reduced penalty – a suspension of a few months to a year or a public warning – rather than a standard two-year ban.”

A subsequent AP article also carried by Sports Illustrated and referring to the five Jamaican cases  added, “The known banned substances in these cases, a diuretic and a stimulant, don’t resemble the steroids and designer drugs that took down some of the world’s top athletes – Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Ben Johnson, to name a few – over the past years and decades.”

So in fact, far from using these lapses as opportunities to discredit Jamaica’s sprinting programme, Sports Illustrated, by choosing to carry the Associated Press stories mentioned above,  seemed to be at pains to draw attention to the slightness of the offences, in a way that Jamaican media was not. So much for the big, bad foreign media theories. On the contrary I remember Tara Playfair-Scott, Asafa’s publicist, pleading on Twitter with local media  to be more responsible in their reporting. For an elaboration of the kind of doping irregularities Jamaican athletes stand accused of and how different these are from the more serious infractions Tyson Gay and others are accused of see “Performance-Enhancing Drugs: What Are They and What Are They Not?” by Professor Trevor Hall.

On the very same day the Sports Illustrated (AP) article on VCB came out Anne Shirley posted the following on Facebook upbraiding the local press for prematurely finding the senior athlete guilty of a worse offence than turned out to be the case in the end:

Do we understand that there was no need for the media speculation and hype over the past few days if only we had allowed the IAAF and JAAA to announce the fact that there was an anti-doping rule violation? In our haste to be first and to have all the “facts” before anyone else had the story, information was leaked to the Jamaican media when it should not have been, and we all ran with it. What if we had left it until today so that this was the beginning of the public story?????? Would there have been a difference in the coverage?

I choose to open this post on Anne Shirley’s August 19 Sports Illustrated article thus for several  reasons. That article, titled An inside look at Jamaican track’s drug-testing woes has   generated so much controversy, condemnation, hysteria and vitriol towards its author that I worried I was witnessing yet another lynching—a virtual one this time.

“We need to lock her up for treason!” exclaimed one young friend on Facebook, a sentiment echoed by an alarmingly large number of Jamaicans judging by statements on radio talk shows, Facebook and Twitter.

The widespread assumption seems to be that Sports Illustrated, an American magazine, is out to get small, hapless Jamaica whose valiant sprinters have brought it so much glory and pride in recent years. The world is jealous of Jamaica, people here think, most of all the United States, whose athletes have by and large been forced to follow in the wake of Jamaica’s triumphant superstars rather than ahead of them.

Why then did Anne Shirley decide to ‘betray’ the nation by going to a large American media conglomerate to complain about the failings of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission rather than our own national media, ask her critics. Failing that why didn’t she take her complaints to WADA, the body in charge of regulating drug testing internationally? Why moreover had she chosen this particular time to “besmirch” Jamaica’s reputation internationally by suggesting that JADCO was inadequately equipped to deliver the stringent. internationally compliant, drug testing standards required? Let’s look at these questions one by one.

First, is it true that Anne did not go to the local media? No. Absolutely untrue. When what she calls the Category 5 hurricane hit (the news of the failed drug tests by 5 athletes) Shirley, who headed JADCO for a brief  seven months in 2012-13, took to the airwaves trying to alert local media to the dangers that lay ahead if Jamaica continued to operate administrative facilities that fell so far short of the world-class stature of its athletes. I personally heard her on Nationwide Radio on July 17 saying that the local anti-doping regimen wasn’t as up to par or world-class as the athletes themselves and that this would pose a huge problem in future. She warned that international Sport was big business and that Jamaica needs a truly independent, fearless organization with a strong management team and advisory board. The implication of course is that this is not what we have at the moment.

Then on August 7, Shirley wrote a letter to the editor of the Gleaner which was singled out as the Letter of the Day in which she challenged the veracity of statistics provided by JADCO and its chairman, Herb Elliott, to WADA. As a result, she claimed, the numbers in the WADA database did not reflect the true level of testing that JADCO had undertaken in 2012-13:

I contend that JADCO authorised and paid for more tests on Jamaican athletes, particularly in track and field, than have been reported and published in the WADA statistics in 2012, primarily due to a reporting error that has not been corrected in the ADAMS database that was made before I arrived at JADCO in mid-July, 2012.

I further state that these official figures do not show the true picture of the work carried out by the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission as testing authority on behalf of the Government and taxpayers of Jamaica.

I would challenge the chairman and the board of JADCO to refute my statement. And I suggest, respectfully, that the record needs to be amended by the board of JADCO forthwith to reflect the true level of testing carried out by the commission in 2012.

Finally, on the question of the vexing issue of whether or not JADCO actively conducted testing in the “off-season” (i.e. the October-January period), I can further verify that during the period August-December 2012, in keeping with international best practice to place greater emphasis on out-of-competition testing in the off-season, JADCO conducted a total of 72 tests – with 12 tests conducted in-competition and 60 tests out-of-competition. And this level of testing continued into the first quarter of 2013.

On August 13 the Gleaner again carried a piece by Anne Shirley written in response to an article by Delano Franklyn expressing surprise at the discrepancy between Anne Shirley’s statistics and the official figures put out by JADCO. She provided extensive data to substantiate her claims that JADCO had conducted adequate off-competition testing during her tenure there and that the figures provided to WADA had under-reported this. A table she provided shows a huge increase in off-competition testing during the seven months she was CEO of JADCO. As far as I know no one has been able to refute her figures to date. Her article concluded by saying:

… rather than seeking to crucify the messenger, I would respectfully suggest that Mr Franklyn and other senior technocrats at the Office of the Prime Minister need to review the current state of staffing and organisational depth at JADCO – particularly given the fact that the agency should be far advanced in preparing cases for the six AAFs and one appeal that are on its plate and ensure that the necessary corrective actions are taken with immediate effect.

So we’ve established that Anne Shirley had done more than enough to alert local media as well as the public to the potential problems if JADCO was not rapidly made to comply with international best practices in drug testing. On August 7, the Gleaner wrote an editorial, Get with the programme, JADCO, which corroborated the uncooperativeness and lack of transparency of the JADCO board also highlighted by Shirley:

…While we do not believe that hardcore doping is a feature of Jamaican athletics, it is our view, though, that a robust and transparent programme of testing is not only a deterrent to drug cheating, but the best answer to the Contes and Pounds who may want to believe the worst.

…It was only last week, after our too-many appeals in these columns, and in the face of unfortunate global questioning of the legitimacy of our athletes, that JADCO’s chairman, Dr Herb Elliott, caused it to dribble that the agency performed 106 tests in 2012, 68 of which were in competition. In the five years of its existence, JADCO conducted 860 tests – 504 in competition and 356 out of competition.

The Gleaner went on to say that it didn’t believe that JADCO’s failure to provide the data the media was asking for was necessarily because it had anything to hide but because “it is subject, we believe, to an old-fashion[ed] leadership culture that is uncomfortable with transparency, hamstrung by a fear of criticism, and views the control of information as power.”

This certainly jives with what Anne Shirley said in her Sports Illustrated article:

When I took over, in mid-July [in 2012, just before the London Olympics], JADCO did not have a large enough staff in place to carry out rigorous anti-doping programs. The Doping Control/Technical Services and the Education/Communications Units had only one junior staff member each, and the director positions were vacant. There was no Whereabouts Information Officer—in charge of keeping track of athletes so that they could be tested out of competition—and only one full-time doping control officer. The committee in charge of reviewing the legitimacy of medical prescriptions for athletes was without a chairman and had never met.

Other aspects of the program were equally troubled—and troubling. I arrived to find no accounting staff in place, and no monthly financial statements had been produced in the five years since inception. JADCO was behind on payments for a number of its bills.

I urged the authorities in Jamaica to get more serious about anti-doping before a scandal hit us. I had long had reason for concern. I quietly tried to point out the presence of Jamaican threads linked to the BALCO case, via the testimony of Angel (Memo) Heredia about his contacts with elite Jamaican athletes. My position is that these threads, no matter how thin, should not be brushed aside as malice, but treated seriously, as they represent a potential threat to the integrity of our athletes and our nation.

During my time with JADCO, I also voiced concern about internet purchases of drugs and supplements by athletes, as there is reason to believe that some Jamaican athletes have been careless in their Internet purchases of dietary supplements, the ingredients labels of which are not tightly regulated in Jamaica. But despite my efforts I could not get any member of the JADCO board or member of Jamaica’s Cabinet to take it seriously. They believe that Jamaica does not have a problem.

The more frustrated I became about the lack of staff and attention to issues I raised, the worse the working environment became for me, and in February of this year I met with a group of JADCO board members and we agreed it would be best if I stepped aside. Dr. Elliott has voiced his strong opinion that Jamaican anti-doping efforts are satisfactory. But this is not a time for grandstanding. In the wake of both recent achievements on the track and devastating positive tests off it, we need to believe that our athletes are clean and that our anti-doping program is independent, vigorous, and free from any semblance of conflicts of interest.


On the question of timing and why Shirley had published such a damning article in the international media at this point, it’s clear that the embattled former JADCO head felt she had no other choice. Having raised her worries locally more than once and seeing no action being taken or credible response provided by JADCO and little or no follow up by media here on the questions she was asking (“I’m giving you the questions that YOU need to be asking.” she said to ace journalist Emily Crooks on TVJ’s Impact), she decided to up the pressure by speaking to Sports Illustrated, an internationally recognized magazine that had previously behaved more responsibly towards the Jamaican athletes accused of failing their drug tests than Jamaican media itself. Let me refer you back to the evidence of this provided at the top of this post.

Let it be noted that it was the American sports magazine that approached Ms. Shirley after reading her Gleaner letters, not the other way around. Note also that virtually none of our local media took the trouble to approach her in a similar way or to follow up on her disclosures with an investigative article or in-depth feature on JADCO and its preparedness either to test the athletes adequately or to put in place the high-level legal defence teams the five found to have breached the code would require.

In a follow up interview conducted with her Anne Shirley told me the following:

One of the critical issues at present facing the current JADCO administration and one of my greatest concerns is that VCB, Asafa, Sherone and the other three athletes are entitled to a fair hearing of their AAFs in a timely manner — this is their careers and livelihood we are talking about. THIS IS PERHAPS THE MAIN REASON FOR THE TIMING OF MY SI ARTICLE!!!!!!

If my information is correct that there is currently no staff in the Doping Control/Results Management area, who is putting together the evidence packages, witness statements, expert analysis etc needed for JADCO to give with instructions to the lawyers who will present the case against each athlete in separate hearings? And have lawyers been retained by JADCO? SOMEONE NEEDS TO ASK JADCO THESE QUESTIONS!!!

Jamaica cannot afford to have any or all of the cases thrown out on a technicality.

And what is the timetable for each Hearing Panel to start the respective hearings? The Dominique Blake appeal is going on now — but the other 5 AAFs (excluding VCB’s) now need to be scheduled. Again time is of the essence.

BTW re the VCB Hearing — under the statute in Jamaica (ie the Anti-Doping Act 2008) — how come JAAA has put together a Hearing Panel? Does JAAA have its own written rules? And who is putting together the case management for the JAAA? Note the testing at the Meet was supervised by an IAAF representative, but the actual tests were carried out by JADCO’s Doping Control teams. Would be interested to know if the witness statements have been taken (and by whom), and look forward to the expert testimonies on both sides. Understand this Hearing will get underway in September.

Re the testing programme — We have to put EPO testing back into our testing programme and now introduce blood testing. All we are doing at this time is plain urine tests which is not enough.

These are some of my major concerns — I felt that I had no choice but to act as I did. And while I am not in a position, even in these comments to go any further, I trust that the investigations will be thorough covering areas and concerns that I have already shared with the powers that be (it was not for a lack of trying!).

Finally — a detailed explanation needs to be made publicly by JADCO as to how the WADA statistics for 2012 state that JADCO conducted 106 tests as Testing Authority and a later news release was issued (August 14?) that I was correct in stating that the total number of tests conducted by JADCO in 2012 was 179. Why the difference since the WADA statistics come from the Lab info that is posted in the ADAMS database.

If the JADCO test numbers in ADAMS and the WADA official 2012 are understated, then are the report of the IAAF tests conducted on Jamaican athletes overstated? Not one journalist has followed up on this logic. No one has sought answers to the questions that I suggested to Delano Franklyn.

These are some of the areas that journalists and others need to probe and ask questions about, not go on about me exposing our dirty linen abroad.

As Dick Pound has publicly stated (his latest comments are in this BBC report) — the world is already watching Jamaica.


I have no regrets for speaking out. On the contrary, I feel that the authorities now have no choice but to act.


Finally let’s look at the question of why Shirley didn’t go to WADA to complain about the inadequacies of JADCO, typified by the following comments on Twitter and Facebook:

Ingrid Green: If all she was getting at is a dysfunctional JADCO, why go to Sports Illustrated, Why not contact WADA and discuss her concerns with them, ask for help. She put the Athletes under a shadow with her article and did Nothing to help the programme.

Cindy’sDaughter @CindysDaughter: Caller on Nationwide with an excellent point. If you were so concerned Anne Shirley, why not go to WADA?

Perhaps its not widely known here in Jamaica that WADA has its own problems. It is now becoming increasingly clear that doping in Sport is the norm rather than the exception. On August 22, 2013, the New York Times published an article about research commissioned by WADA, the findings of which it was now delaying disseminating.

According to John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor and expert on performance-enhancing drugs, the study’s findings dispelled the notion that doping was a deviant behavior among a few athletes.

“Either the sport is recruiting huge numbers of deviants,” he said, “or this is simply routine behavior being engaged in by, more or less, normal people.”

The article quoted Dick Pound on the current state of drug testing worldwide, the same former WADA chairman who has repeatedly raised concerns about Jamaica’s lack of adequate testing practices.

In part, he and his team concluded, “There is no general appetite to undertake the effort and expense of a successful effort to deliver doping-free sport.”

Pound said in a telephone interview Thursday: “There’s this psychological aspect about it: nobody wants to catch anybody. There’s no incentive. Countries are embarrassed if their nationals are caught. And sports are embarrassed if someone from their sport is caught.”

Hah! Isn’t that exactly what the Anne Shirley saga has proved in the local context? It’s highly unlikely therefore that WADA would have done the needful by putting JADCO’s house in order for us. In any case this is something that Jamaicans themselves should be undertaking, with or without foreign assistance, instead of baying for the blood of the rare citizen willing to stick her neck out and speak the truth. We should also be studying her statements over the last year on Facebook and elsewhere closely. In one of several Facebook posts Shirley asked people to take note of one Patrick Arnold “the mastermind behind a number of the supplements, creams etc… and remember his name.”

In concluding I have to agree with Barry Wade who suggested on his blog that the problem Anne Shirley is faced with is that she has disclosed an inconvenient truth and done so in an international arena. What we really need to fear are not the Anne Shirleys of Jamaica, indeed we need a thousand more like her if we really want to change the rotten state of affairs prevailing in almost all our institutions.

What should worry us is that older generation of technocrats, bureaucrats and leaders unwilling to admit that its time for them to retire and leave the competitive business of sports administration to younger. more savvy professionals just as internationally competitive as Jamaica’s athletes. In the absence of this we are leaving our hardworking, stellar athletes open to the kinds of suspicions leveled by people like Victor Conte, Dick Pound and others. For a neat summary of these watch the video below or read the comments made by Conte in the interview posted below with Scott Ostler done at the end of July. Do we really think JADCO as constituted now is going to serve our athlete’s best interests in the face of such serious allegations?

Anne Shirley’s timing is perfect. We have three years to get our house in order before the next Olympics. Let’s stop abusing her and do it. Below is a partial transcript of the damaging views of Jamaican athletes and their success, that Anne Shirley and others are concerned about.

Is JADCO as it is constituted now really capable of dispelling these rumours if that is what they are? If so could they outline for us their plan of action and strategy to contain them?

Ostler: What about the Jamaican stuff (sprinters busted for alleged use of steroids)?

Conte: Well I’ve believed for a long time that it is state-sponsored doping. I believe the Jamaican Olympic Committee is in on it, I believe the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commision is in on it, I believe they’re being tipped off. When Usain Bolt gets a $6 million piece of beachfront property in exchange for winning the gold medals, this is tremendous for tourism in Jamaica—and understand, these are my opinions, right?—and I said this a long time ago, I’m highly suspicious of this, and I’m going to tell you when it started.

In 2008 I was asked by (British sprinter) Dwain Chambers to write a letter to the UK anti-doping (commission) listing all the drugs that I gave these athletes, the seven or eight different drugs, the purposes, the frequencies, the dosages, etc., which I did. This was in March. Then in May or June when they have the Jamaican Olympic trials, Veronica Campbell. . .competed in the 100 meters, she was already an Olympic gold medalist, she came in fourth and ran 10.88, which is very fast. And I thought, “Who are these other runners, that she doesn’t even make the team?”

Shelly-Ann Fraser, I looked it up and in 2007 her PR was 11.31. Less than a year later she goes to the Olympics and wins in 10.78. Now that is more than five meters faster. Who improves five meters in one year? So I went on the record. . .”Oh, my god, this is highly suspicious.” Bolt’s fastest time was something like 10.03, next thing you know he runs 9.72. It was just too much, too soon.

I worked with a couple athletes from another Caribbean country, and (one of them talked to a friend of mine) who calls me and says, “Oh my god, you’re not going to believe this but. . .they won all the medals in the women’s 100, they read your article that was sent to WADA that you gave to the UK, and they’re using all your protocols, that were used by Dwain Chambers and Kelli White, including the T3, the thyroid medication.” So they followed my blueprint, but WADA didn’t pay any attention to it.

I know all the track writers, and in the mixed zone under the stadium in Beijing, they said when (Jamaican) athletes came into the mixed zone to do interviews with the media, that Herb Elliott, who is the head of  (Jamaican anti-doping), the medical director who is in charge of collecting the urine samples from the athletes, was chest-bumping with all the guys on the relay team!

Dick Pound wrote a recent report. Two things. One, he followed my recommendation that they do more CIR testing, and secondly, he said the primary problem was that the WADA officials were really looking the other way, they didn’t really have a genuine interest in catching people, that they’re more worried about the political aspects and receiving funding.

Usain Bolt: A Latter-day Hermes? Part 2

In which i respond to criticism of my Usain Bolt article which appeared in Newsweek, July 16. Part of the problem may have been caused by the inevitable editing process which condenses and removes context in some cases, throwing statements into starker relief than was intended.

Street artist James Cochran, also known as Jimmy C, works on his spray painted picture of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in Sclater Street car park in east LondonPicture: REUTERS/Paul Hackett
Olympic security. Soldiers doing a Usain Bolt impression waiting to enter the Olympic Park on Sunday 15/07/2012 Pic by Frances Leader

On the rare occasion when i’ve had to teach a writing class, usually to students at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies, there are  three publications i use as exemplars of the best writing available in English today. They are Time, Newsweek and the Economist. These three global newsmagazines, employ some of the best writers in the world today evident in the tightly constructed, yet fluid articles they feature, some no more than half a page in length, or a few hundred words, but words so expertly chosen and so economically strung together that (like the ant which carries loads several times its size on its tiny back) the quantity of information they convey belies their slender word counts.

Or so i thought. When i relayed this opinion at a dinner party once, someone, and I wish i could remember who this was, suggested that I was wrong. It’s not good writers these newsmagazines have, she or he said, it’s excellent editors. Hmmmm i thought to myself at the time, not entirely convinced. Now in the wake of writing an article on Usain Bolt for the current issue of Newsweek I know exactly what they meant; they were right.

When i got back the first edit of my article from Sam Seibert, an editor at Newsweek, i was mortified but also somewhat pleased. It was a drastic edit, with some rewriting and additions to my text in places (was my writing as poor as that?), but on the whole i couldn’t deny that it had improved my submission considerably. In fact there were some lessons about writing that Sam’s expert editing and rewriting reminded me of and i can’t thank him enough for this. The transition from one paragraph to another for instance; how to link thoughts and words so that the narrative flows along at a clip bearing the reader along.

Of course some of the changes inevitably shift the emphasis, sometimes even altering the meaning that was originally intended. I was given the opportunity to correct his rewrite more than once but the turnaround time was short and in retrospect i see a few things now which i should have rephrased. They’ve come to my attention because of the number of negative reactions, even objections to some of the things i say in the article. For example Dionne Jackson-Miller, one of the top journalists here whose shows I regularly tune into on radio and tv,  posted on Facebook saying: Several comments gave me pause Annie Paul like this one…” In a land where hardly anything else works, an exemplary tradition of track-and-field instruction and competition has flourished for almost 100 years. ” Gonna have to think about that – are we really as underdeveloped as that suggests?

I could see her point, it was a harsh statement. Had i really said that? i went back to the text I had sent Newsweek and found something slightly different: “In a country where hardly anything works as it should an exemplary tradition of track and field instruction and administration has existed for almost 100 years.

In fact it’s worth quoting the entire section this line was taken from, in which in an attempt to explain the Bolt phenomenon i try to sketch out the roots of the athletic culture that has developed in Jamaica.

Biological and dietary considerations aside the truth is that to ‘get’ Usain you have to get Jamaica, a country and culture riven by contradictions and inconsistency. To call Jamaica a ‘sprint factory’ is misleading; far from churning out cookie-cutter champions Jamaica is a crucible in which unique, world-class runners are formed, bursting onto the world stage at regular intervals and conquering it against all odds. They’ve been doing this since the 1948 Olympics when Jamaican runners, Arthur Wint and Herbert McKenley, won gold and silver in the 400m. In a country where hardly anything works as it should an exemplary tradition of track and field instruction and administration has existed for almost 100 years.

A nation of fervent Christians and bible thumpers, Jamaica has a deeply entrenched network of churches which may have been very receptive to nineteenth century British ideas about ‘muscular Christianity’. This may explain why running became so popular; anyone, anywhere could do it you didn’t neeed deep pockets or an expensive infrastructure to become a runner. By the middle of the twentieth century the sport was flourishing in Jamaica. According to Patrick Robinson, author of Jamaican Athletics: “There is no entity or area of endeavour in Jamaica, whether in the public or private sector, that is as well organized and, applying international standards, has been as consistently successful as track and field athletics.”  

Whereas earlier generations of promising athletes with Olympic ambitions had to go abroad to be trained on track scholarships, Jamaica now has its own world-class coaches, trainers and managers. Stephen Francis of MVP Track Club and Glen Mills of Racers Track Club are two whose homegrown battalion of runners in the last two Olympics stupefied the world. Glen Mills is not only Usain Bolt’s coach, he is also the man behind young Yohan Blake, Bolt’s most dangerous opponent in the upcoming Olympic 100 and 200m races.

Blessed with exceptional natural talent in running Usain Bolt benefited from the systems already in place to identify potential athletes and train them. His passion as a child was cricket and he played on his school team from an early age. Fortunately his father and others noticed the speed with which he ran down the pitch and sent him to the William Knibb Memorial High School, a school with a strong track and field programme that gave sports scholarships and has produced a number of the country’s top athletes including the multiple-gold medal winning Veronica Campbell Brown.

Much of this landed on the cutting floor during Newsweek’s editorial process and what was left was this:

Running is a sport that seems practically ideal for a country like Jamaica. You don’t need deep pockets or fancy equipment to become a great runner. In a land where hardly anything else works, an exemplary tradition of track-and-field instruction and competition has flourished for almost 100 years. The island first seized the world’s attention back in 1948 when Jamaican runners Arthur Wint and Herbert McKenley won the gold and silver in the 400m in London.

Nevertheless, the sport that first captured the boy’s heart was not running, but cricket. He played on his school team from an early age, and it was on the pitch that his extraordinary speed first caught the attention of the town’s grown-ups. He became a prize recruit for William Knibb Memorial High School, which featured both a strong track-and-field program and sports scholarships. Knibb has produced many of Jamaica’s top athletes.

Sam Seibert’s editing of my article was so drastic that i actually asked if he’d be sharing the byline with me, but that’s not the convention in most major print media. It was interesting to come across an article called How the Byline Beast was Born, the very day after i got back the first edit of my article. I realized that there was no need for me to be crestfallen, that the process i had just undergone was pretty standard. In Byline Beast Jack Shafer was writing about the recent fuss about Journatic a content farm that provides local news stories to news media all over the United States. It’s a fascinating article i highly recommend, the following is only a small quote of immediate relevance to the editorial process i describe above:

In even the most professional of newsrooms, editors frequently do sufficient work on a piece – reporting and re-reporting sections, composing long passages without the assistance of the bylined writer, redefining the story’s parameters – that they deserve a byline or at least a co-byline. Yet magazine, newspaper and wire editors rarely receive this credit for their extraordinary interventions.

Although I highlight the radical edit of my article in this post I don’t blame it entirely for people’s reactions to what I’ve said in this article. When I call Jamaica a country where hardly anything functions as it should I’m referring to the major structures of governance that  serve the needs of most citizens here so poorly that they’ve created their own informal structures and processes. While middle-class Jamaicans may well find things to be proud of–the system does work on their behalf after all–large numbers of poorer Jamaicans may disagree, for there is a sharp divergence in the way they are treated by the Police, the Justice system, the education system and government processes in general. Even the media in Jamaica treats you differently based on whether you come from uptown or downtown.

Incidentally the text i sent Newsweek was titled Usain Bolt: A Latter-day Hermes? but news media here and elsewhere rarely use headlines provided by writers, they have special people on board just to write headlines.

There were other things i said in my article which upset readers here and in the diaspora. I’ll discuss those in subsequent posts. In the meantime enjoy this Dorian Scott video of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and others building a vibe on the racetrack in Birmingham while they prepare for the Olympics. Scott is representing Jamaica in shotput at the upcoming Olympics. You may need a Facebook account to view the video but it’s well worth it.

PS: The photos at the top of this post are from the UK Telegraph.

The Bolt and the Beast…

An account of the Men’s and Women’s 100m finals at Jamaica’s Olympic national trials where world records were broken and the winning times were faster than those in the American trials.

Finish of Jamaican Olympic trials men’s 100m semifinal, the winning blur is Asafa Powell…

So i was at the stadium yesterday for that thrilling 100m men’s race which saw Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt and Yohan ‘the Beast’ Blake vying with each other for first place. Asafa had won his semifinal and Bolt his. In the final Powell lead the way coming out of the starting blocks fast unlike Bolt who lumbered a bit in the beginning. All eyes were on them when the Beast running in lane 7, seemed to appear out of nowhere, gaining on the others by leaps and bounds and slicing into the finish line a head ahead of Bolt who had by then overtaken Powell. I mean it doesn’t get much better than this.

Earlier we had enjoyed Shelly Ann Fraser’s seemingly easy, thrilling run to victory over a star-studded cast of runners including Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kerron Stuart and others. All in all it was a great evening bedevilled in the early stages by a malfunctioning starter’s gun. How can a gun not work in Jamaica asked a man within earshot, looking puzzled.

There was some gloom earlier in the day when news broke that Asafa Powell had injured himself and might miss the semis and final. Exasperated Jamaicans cussed him left, right and centre citing mental weakness, psychological problems, general all round fecklessness etc trying to understand why this runner so beloved of everyone here seems so prone to injury and misfortune. This time there was also anger at the prospect of being robbed of the chance to see the great Jamaican running triumvirate compete against each other in the same race.

People were thrilled therefore to see Powell on the field when the time came for the semis and he got a huge roar of applause when his name was called. He then proceeded to run better than anyone has seen him run in recent years delighting his fans, though some felt he should have maintained his early lead to the end.

What I didn’t realize till this morning was that Powell had torn his groin during the quarter final heats on Thursday evening and been flown to Miami for medical attention. When he ran yesterday he had only been back from Miami four hours before the semi-finals and knowing how disappointed the public would be if he didn’t run had insisted on taking part. I hope he didn’t aggravate his injury by doing so, but as someone said on Twitter, “The man have heart and guts.”

i couldn’t identify the author of this image so it remains unattributed though the AP suggests it might be an Associated Press photograph.

Now everyone waits breathlessly for the 200m finals tomorrow night when Bolt and Blake meet again. I think Bolt should prevail because the 200m gives him more time to recover from his slow starts and he’ll certainly want to teach young Blake a thing or two after being pipped by him in the 1000m.

Incidentally the winning times in both men’s and women’s 100m races were faster than those in the American trials the week before. So once again Jamaica has a monopoly on the fastest men and women in the world.

I hope to be there but it all depends on ticket availability. It’s quite clear that something highly irregular is going on with ticket sales for the National Senior Championships to give it its proper title. I went to the ticket office on Thursday morning to get grandstand tickets for Friday and was told they only had bleachers available. All around the ticket office were scalpers offering grandstand tickets at three or four times the official price. Even on the way to the stadium the street was full of young men flogging tickets. Yet i heard from a friend this morning that she was able to obtain grandstand tickets from the Stadium ticket office at 12.30 pm on Friday! But there’s a coda. In response to my incredulous “you got grandstand tickets at the stadium office?!” she replied:

“Believe it – what’s more interesting is that I had a white American with me and SHE got the tickest although they told me they had none – scandalous if you ask me”

What are we celebrating this year again? 50 years of WHAT? smh…when will we ever live up to the standards set by our heroic athletes? Will it take another 50 years to get there? Talk about slow starts…

Raising the Bar

The world’s fastest men and women were feted this weekend in Kingston, Jamaica for their breathtaking exploits in Beijing this summer. The Government produced floats, big trucks pumping music, throngs of joyous people, and keys to new cars and the city of Kingston for many of them. We’re not exactly sure what the latter will unlock; surely a little like giving someone the keys to Pandora’s Box.

I feel like a dog with ten tails, said a woman in the street, beaming with delight the day Usain Bolt returned from the Olympics. And all of them wagging full speed no doubt– what could be more evocative than that? As Brazil is to football, the most stylishly competitive track and field in the world will always be to Jamaica and young Usain will likely occupy a similar place in the firmament as the legendary Pele.

I was going through the newspapers that had piled up on me during those glorious Beijing days and found some really great visual material in them. If the print media routinely lets us down in terms of sloppy writing and poorly conceived and executed texts (no world beaters here, alas!) our cartoonists and advertising agencies rose to the occasion effortlessly demonstrating their world class skills in a series of brilliant cartoons and ads celebrating and commenting on the feats of the Jamaican athletic team.

In this post I’ve reproduced what i thought were the most creative print ads in local newspapers and one of my favourite cartoons by Las May of the Gleaner (apologies for the quality of reproduction, its entirely due to the technology i employed). What price that image of the public awarding a big zero to the antics of the two PNP contenders? (above). Adwise I thought IRIE FM won hands down (see immediately below) with its image of the receding heels of an athlete wearing the Jamaican flag like a cape. No prize for guessing what it says in Chinese–“Usain Bolt run things”–I’m sure.

Congratulations too to Maurice Smith (who has various friends of mine drooling over him); the captain of the team, he is an outstanding decathlete and his role as leader should not be overlooked.

Sorry now to have to drag you from the sublime heights of Olympic stardom to the dismal depths of print journalism in Jamaica but i need to revisit my post of a few weeks ago, Pronounced Dead, (September 5 to be precise) in which i lamented the kind of shoddy writing that passes for reportage and commentary in this country. I return to it now to quote from some of the incisive responses that post received which really bear being quoted and highlighted.

According to V.

the most worrisome part is that, other than illustrating the sloppiness of local editorial practices, the “pronounced dead” narratives also reveal an appalling intellectual dishonesty. Our newspapers know perfectly well that those routine police reports conceal more complex and sordid stories and they should make more effort (correction: MUCH more effort) to uncover and report them.

As Bitter Bean pointed out:

The truth is that those who run the papers care more about the advertising than the editorial content. Articles are just included so that all the ads don’t look overcrowded.

On September 22nd the inimitable Long Bench left this:

I noticed today that the NYT actually created an online page to address the errors that editors and readers find —


Well, well, well. So my post was a timely one. It’s not only in Jamdown that the print media is being critiqued by its readers for the numerous errors purveyed in their pages. The difference is that being Jamaica (read third world? provincial?) newspapers here have completely ignored all criticism, undeterred in their determination to pepper their prose with the most careless and egregious errors.

The Gleaner shows marginal improvement. In last Sunday’s paper ( all the examples cited here are from September 27) the only thing i could find at first glance was this line from Ian Boyne’s column: speaking of Portia he said “…the odds have been stocked against her…” A good proofreader should have picked that up, odds are stacked against someone not stocked.

From the Herald there were several bloopers: in Garnett Roper’s column I read “What Jamaica faces is an economy which has almost grounded completely to a halt.” Later in the same column “People are wondering around lost because of mounting bills.” Today’s editorial in the Herald is titled “Why Journalists must be troublemakers” and makes the case for aggressive newsgathering and storytelling. i completely agree; the Herald is virtually singular in taking such an uncompromising stand in the quality of the stories it carries. It must also display utmost integrity and intolerance of errors in the language it employs to tell its stories.

Finally the Observer had some priceless ones in its editorial titled “Will somebody please answer Ms Verna Gordon-Binns?” The editors seem quite incensed that Ms. Binns’ proposal that ganja or marijuana be used to make ethanol instead of food staples was unceremoniously laughed out of parliament. Quoting from an unnamed document they refer to ‘mitigating the environmental fallout from anthropological activity’. Now mind you this is a quote but the Observer retails it without commenting on its putative meaning. what on earth is being implied here? That anthropological fieldwork has somehow been destructive enough to cause environmental fallout? where, when and how? is the quote correct? Anthropology is “the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind.” I’m at a loss as to what link there might be to the health of the environment here.

Why don’t all three papers take a leaf out of the book of The New York Times? Mind you the level of incorrect language used in the NYT pales in comparison to the local newspapers yet in contrast the NYT had the grace and humility to acknowledge its shortcomings. Here’s how their article on editorial errors started:

Even in the rush to publish, writers and editors at The Times strive for polish and precision in our prose. Sometimes we succeed.

But sometimes, after the dust settles, we are dismayed to see painful grammatical errors, shopworn phrasing or embarrassing faults in usage. A quick fix might be possible online; otherwise, the lapses become lessons for next time.

Will the local print media do the right thing and start paying more attention to copy editing what it puts out in the way of editorial matter? Jamaica’s Olympic team has raised the bar very high but will the Press Association of Jamaica take even a baby step towards demanding (and attaining) internationally benchmarked professional standards in journalism from its members?

To the World from Jamaica! Patwa Power Bolts the Stables

Yes, we can…be worldbeaters! That’s the message from Jamaica’s relentlessly resilient and resourceful underclass who have proven yet again their ability to dominate global competition in the arenas where their lack of English doesn’t hold them back. This is Patwa power (patois or creole, the much reviled and disdained oral language spoken by the majority of Jamaicans) at its most potent: a lithe and flexible force–honed by adversity–flaunting its mastery of the universe of athletics.

To underscore its point Patwa hurled its most powerful lightning bolt at distant Beijing. Named Usain, this young and irrepressible son of Jamaican soil then re-inscribed forever the significance of the word Bolt. Both English-speaking and Patwa-speaking Jamaicans united in celebrating Usain Bolt’s extraordinary exploits (Gold and world records in Men’s 100m, 200m and the 4×100) and those of the nimble, determined young Jamaican team accompanying him. Over the two weeks of the 29th Olympiad they enthralled global audiences over and over again with their worldbeating skills.

Portia Simpson-Miller, considered by many patwa-speakers to be their spokesperson, nailed it when she said on radio that the achievements of Jamaican athletes at Beijing made her proud because “what people call ‘ordinary people’ have produced such extraordinary results”. Prime Minister of Jamaica briefly from 2006 to 2007 Simpson-Miller has faced enormous hostility from the English-speaking elites here who would like to continue their hegemonic rule over this small island state in the Caribbean. President of the Opposition People’s National Party she is currently being challenged for leadership by Dr. Peter Phillips, seen by many as representing the highly educated but numerically small middle class and a state of mind known as Drumblair, the equivalent in Jamaica of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) culture or status in the United States.

Watching the athletic meet at the Olympics unfold from the vantage point of Kingston, Jamaica was an incredible experience. Raw, naked nationalism at its very best: First we rallied around Samantha Albert, Jamaica’s only entrant in the equestrienne events. Samantha is a white Englishwoman with a Jamaican mother who was born and lived here in her early years. She didn’t stand a chance of medaling, merely hoping to make it to the top 25, yet Jamaicans cheered her on, proud to see their flag in this never before contested event.

Then there was the first big race, the men’s 100 metres, in which both Bolt and Asafa Powell were gold medal contenders. Alas Powell disintegrated under the pressure; he still came in fifth but his fans were inconsolable. Bolt’s sensational streak to victory helped but by and large Jamaicans were grieving for Powell. He holds a special place in their hearts. It is as if they identify with him. Whereas in the past they used to cuss off Merlene Ottey when she only managed a bronze medal this time the public concern shown for Powell’s morale and well-being in the aftermath of his disastrous run was quite remarkable. When he finally anchored the 4×100 team to victory in fine form, thundering down the closing stretch like Nemesis herself, he had completely redeemed the favoured son spot he had never really lost.

If Jamaican success at the men’s 100m was tempered with disappointment at not pulling off a trifecta (or even a bifecta) the female athletes delivered perfection by winning gold, silver and silver at the women’s 100 metres. This was an unexpected bonanza. Till now no one had really focused on the female runners or races other than the women’s 200m where Veronica Campbell-Brown was expected to deliver gold. Now the women had successfully grabbed the spotlight and kept it on themselves winning gold or silver in most of their events. In the end, of Jamaica’s 11 medals (six of which were gold) 8 were from women as TVJ’s commentator Bruce James usefully pointed out. One of the sweetest was Melaine Walker’s virtually effortless 400m hurdles gold medal.

Shelley Ann Fraser (women’s 100m winner), the pocket rocket who shot out of the starting blocks and into our hearts wasn’t even considered a medal contender to begin with. Earlier in the year when Veronica, the defending Olympic 200m winner didn’t qualify for the Jamaican 100m team because she came fourth in the qualifying trials (this shows you how competitive athletics is in Jamaica) there were many who thought one of the unknowns who had beaten her should have stepped down in favour of Campbell-Brown out of deference to her seniority and past distinctions. Fraser was the one many thought should have been eliminated from the Jamaican team to make way for Veronica.

Maybe that’s what made her run like a cheetah and spring like a moko jumbie but from now on everytime anyone in the world wants to illustrate the concept of delight they should simply replay Fraser’s girlish leaps and bounds when she realized she had won Olympic gold. If the whole world fell in love with that ecstatic brace-filled smile and the spontaneous, unadulterated joy Shelley-Ann Fraser expressed on the track you can imagine how we in Jamdown felt.

What was hard to imagine even down so (admittedly from uptown down so) was how the parents of these individuals must have felt. Especially when the TV cameras took you to the homes of Shelley-Ann and Sherieka Williams and Sherone Simpson and Melaine Walker and you realized with shock how very poor these people who had produced such champions were. Most of them had watched their sons and daughters winning Olympic silver and gold on very small TV screens, in very humble living quarters, in this ghetto or that one.

Waterhouse. Slaughterhouse. Powerhouse. That’s what young Shelley-Ann from Waterhouse has reiterated for us in case we didn’t know this already from the abnormal number of successful musicians her community has produced. Virtually 80% of Jamaica’s biggest names in music have come from Waterhouse, one of the poorest ghettoes in Kingston, including the young singer I mentioned in my last blog, Terry Lynn. The area should be declared some sort of national patrimony or Talent Park with free education up to any level for all.

When asked if she herself had ever displayed any running talent Shelley Ann’s mother said that indeed she had quite a bit of experience sprinting from the police, with the goods she tried to sell as an unlicensed street vendor. She was an experienced runner she said so her daughter’s performance was not that surprising.

The Ministry of Transport hastened to announce that it was going to upgrade the roadways in all the communities whose athletes had produced Olympic gold. Why? Not so much to elevate these depressed communities as to give them an instant facelift so that when the international media arrived their impoverishment would be less apparent and less of a blight on the brand name of Jamaica! The politics of sports in Jamaica! Or just the politics of politics…

On a more amusing note page two of the Observer, the social page, suddenly underwent a population transfusion, the beige and white socialites who normally monopolize it abruptly displaced by the almost uniformly dark-skinned athletes. Sigh! If only Jamaica’s business and social elite were one hundredth as nimble and competitive as the country’s athletes! If only they too were worldbeaters!

Personally I think that the phenomenal performance of Jamaican athletes is also due to the cultural self-confidence they feel; a confidence expressed by Usain Bolt in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium when he spontaneously broke into the Nuh Linga and the Gully Creeper, the latest dance moves innovative Jamaican dancehall music has produced (actually Usain’s trademark gesture of pulling back an imaginary bow and arrow like Orion is now the latest dancehall move here).

This is not a confidence manufactured by the abjectly self-conscious, respectability-seeking, hymn-singing English-speaking middle classes but one bred out of the flamboyant, boisterous, in-your-face Patwa-speaking population. In the forty years since Jamaica’s independence it is the latter who have proved both through their athletic and musical prowess that they are ready to take on the world. The Beijing Olympics have shown that the world is more than ready for them (minus the prissy IOC head Jacques Rogge who sounds for all the world as if he had been formed in the bowels of Upper St. Andrew). To the World Ja!

Photo credits, captions
(L-R) Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, Usain Bolt and Michael Frater of Jamaica celebrate the gold medal after the Men’s 4 x 100m Relay Final at the National Stadium on Day 14 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 22, 2008 in Beijing, China.
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images AsiaPac)

(L-R) Joint silver medalist Sherone Simpson of Jamaica, gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser of Jamaica and Joint silver medalist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica stand on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 100m Final at the National Stadium on Day 10 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 18, 2008 in Beijing, China.
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images AsiaPac)

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